Tim Farron's message: Rebuilding Lib Dems piece by piece
- 23 September 2015
- From the section UK Politics
Tim Farron didn't need to introduce himself to the audience in the Liberal Democrat conference hall.
For years he has been a popular campaigner in the party, and during the years of coalition he wasn't shy of having a swipe at his colleagues who had gone into government.
But it was his first big set piece speech as the party's leader and after the Lib Dems' appalling loss at the general election, his task was not really to punch through to the general public. Let's be realistic, with the party so diminished, most voters won't be paying that much attention.
Instead it was to persuade his party that all is not lost.
On that, a passionate and well-delivered speech, peppered with anecdotes from his own childhood, hit the right notes. He tried, and in the most part succeeded, to combine his brand of Northern charm, with the heft of a serious politician.
What was harder for him was to be convincing on the second goal he wants to achieve - to present his party as the true opposition to the government, occupying the political space Labour is in the middle of abandoning under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.
This was trickier, not least because his members and colleagues know that Farron's true personal political centre is on the left of the Liberal Democrats.
No surprise then that the most passionate parts of the speech, that earned him standing ovations, were his strong criticisms of the government's position on housing, and the handling of the refugee crisis.
Both were heartfelt, strong pleas, that will prove popular with his members. But they betrayed perhaps what he'll find hard - branding himself and his party as rooted in the sensible centre, when that's several degrees to the right of his own beliefs.
And while the speech will have pleased those in the hall, there is no escaping the electoral facts. With only eight MPs left in the House of Commons, Farron faces a monumental challenge not just to get back to anything remotely approximating power, but to get a regular slice of political action.
It was not so much, "go back to your constituencies and prepare for government", David Steel's ill-fated and premature command to his party in 1981. But more like, "go back to your constituencies and prepare to put this party back together piece by piece, ward by ward, council by council".
Tim Farron has given his party the energy to start that fight, but don't be under any illusion that it won't be a long, hard slog.